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Anxiety and Overthinking Everything

Anxiety and overthinking tend to be evil partners. One of the horrible hallmarks of any type of anxiety disorder is the tendency to overthink everything. The anxious brain is hypervigilant, always on the lookout for anything it perceives to be dangerous or worrisome. I’ve been accused of making problems where there aren’t any. To me, though, there are, indeed, problems. Why? Because anxiety causes me to overthink everything. Anxiety makes us overthink everything in many different ways, and the result of this overthinking isn’t helpful at all. Fortunately, anxiety and overthinking everything doesn’t have to be a permanent part of our existence. 

Ways Anxiety Causes Overthinking

An effect of any type of anxiety is overthinking everything. There are common themes to the way anxiety causes overthinking. Perhaps this generic list will remind you of specific racing thoughts you experience and help you realize that you’re not alone in overthinking everything because of anxiety.

  • Obsessing over what we should say/should have said/did say/didn’t say (common in social anxiety)
  • Worrying incessantly about who we are and how we are measuring up to the world (common in social and performance anxiety)
  • Creating fearful what-if scenarios about things that could go wrong for ourselves, loved ones, and the world (common in generalized anxiety disorder)
  • Wild, imagined results of our own wild, imagined faults and incompetencies (all anxiety disorders)
  • Fear of having a panic attack in public and possibly thinking that you can’t leave home because of it (panic disorder with or without agoraphobia)
  • Worrying about a multitude of obsessive thoughts, sometimes scary ones and thinking about them constantly (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Thinking — overthinking — a tumbling chain of worries, vague thoughts, and specific thoughts (all anxiety disorders)

Result of Anxiety and Overthinking

With anxiety, not only are these thoughts (and more) running through our brains, but they are always running through our brains, non-stop, endlessly. Like a gerbil hooked up to an endless drip of an energy drink, they run and run and wheel around in one place, going absolutely nowhere. Day and night, the wheel squeaks.

Over-thinking everything is a horrid part of anxiety disorders. Over-thinking everything creates more anxiety. This tip helps stop over-thinking. Check it out.Anxiety and overthinking everything makes us both tired and wired. One result of the thinking too much that comes with anxiety is that we are often left feeling physically and emotionally unwell. Having these same anxious messages run through our head everywhere we go takes its toll.

Further, another dangerous result of anxiety and overthinking everything is that we start to believe what we think. After all, if we think it, it’s real, and if we think it constantly, it’s very real. Right? No. This is a trick anxiety plays. Anxiety causes overthinking, but with anxiety, these thoughts aren’t always trustworthy.

You have the power and the ability to interfere in anxiety’s overthinking everything. It’s a process that involves many steps, but a step you can take right now to slow down that gerbil is to have something with you or around you to divert your attention. Rather than arguing with your thoughts or obsessing over them, gently shift your attention onto something else, something neutral. By thinking about something insignificant, you weaken anxiety’s ability to cause you to overthink everything.

I explain this further in the below video. I invite you to tune in.

Let’s connect. I blog here. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. My mental health novels, including one about severe anxiety, are here

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges as well as a self-help book on acceptance and commitment therapy. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

209 thoughts on “Anxiety and Overthinking Everything”

  1. Great article, its reassuring to know there are other people who have the same things going through their mind, loved the gerbil analogy, although it feels a bit more like a time lapse video running at an extreme speed…think Madona’s ray of light video form the 90’s…or was it the 00’s (sorry its the only way i can describe it). its also accompanied by a constant cacophony of panic.
    My anxiety was brought on following a brain injury, along with memory and cognitive issues, which is why its pretty difficult for me to deal with, its like I’m a different person.
    I’ve been taking some nootropics which seem to help with some things.

    I agree the video helped for the length of the video lol!
    enjoyed the article as well!

    1. Hi Stu,
      Thanks for your comment and feedback! Love the analogy to Madonna’s video. I’m going to go find that and watch it again. My own anxiety was exacerbated by a TBi, so I can relate somewhat (we’re all different, of course). I experienced anxiety before the brain injury, but it wasn’t a problem. It became a problem after the injury. (The TBI also led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.) Feeling like a different person is a common sentiment expressed by people with TBI. The essence of “you” is still there. You’re just on an adventure to redefine some things. Including dealing with anxiety!

  2. sometimes overthinking is really hard because I’m constantly trying to find ways to make myself better. But then I overthink things i can do, and i overthink things that I have to do. I’m always trying to fix what’s wrong, but then I question it too much that it looks ugly in my brain, so solutions never really help me, because my brain messes up everything I think on an existential level. I can’t tell which thoughts are real and legitimate and which ones are not.

  3. thank you so much for this article. I’ve been dealing with anxiety for a few years now and every now and then I begin to overthink constantly. This article helped me realize that it’s normal for people with anxiety to go through this and makes me feel much more serene. Thank you again.

    1. Hi Noah,
      Thanks for your feedback! I’m happy this article helped you feel more serene. There is great comfort for all of us in knowing that we’re not alone and that what we’re experiencing isn’t a personal flaw. That’s one of the main reasons HealthyPlace.com and Anxiety-Schmanxiety exist. I hope you keep coming back. 🙂

  4. I have been fighting with over thinking and anxiety too much, most times I look confused and carried away. Though it helped in the university as I was able to think and stress my brain to solve problems but right now I can’t even solve my own problem. It’s even affecting my sex life (psychological ED) I’m too young for this, the more I make a mistake with my thoughts the more it gets to me. My brain could just make me think I did what I intended to do even when in actuality I haven’t done it, but yet my brain makes me feel so confident that I did it. It’s frustrating, this little mistake can make one lose their dream job in future. I think I’m gradually wearing my brain out (I have 4 talents and I’m focusing on all) I can’t relax my brain. It’s always active think of rubbish, yes I call all these rubbish because it’s just getting on my nerves. I wish I could start over with most of my thoughts. How can I fix this please?

    1. Hi Stanley,
      The notion of wearing out the brain is a great description of what those of us who overthink things often wonder about. Rest assured, the human brain is amazing and can’t be worn out from thinking, anxiety, or both. Sometimes when people have many different things to balance at the same time, such as the four different talents you mention, it can become too much. This has nothing to do with intelligence/lack of it or talent/lack of it. It has to do with the fact that the brain can process a finite number of things at once before becoming stressed. It won’t wear out, but it can become overwhelmed. This affects all areas of functioning. Sometimes people find it helpful to chose fewer things on which to focus at once. Also, seeing a therapist can help you manage anxiety. Think of these as a way of resetting, of starting over with your thoughts.

  5. I have been suffering from anxiety for 3 years. I used to be a happy go lucky guy , but now I overthink. My anxiety started when my blood pressure rocketed up suddenly, I went to the doctor and he told me that I was suffering from heart burn. My heart burn was cured but that illness made me an anxious person. I developed hypochondria after that, I always thought that I would get a heart attack or stroke! After consulting a psychiatrist I overcame my health anxiety. Now I have social anxiety , I feel like people always judge me. I slurr My speech too. For last 3 months I have been thinking about death …any advice!?

    1. Hello Faheem,
      You point out something very common (and frustrating): anxiety doesn’t always stay the same over time. Often, just as we have our specific type of anxiety under control, a new form of anxiety pops up. When that happens, separating yourself from your anxiety in general, staying mindful in and connected to the present moment, clearly defining what you want in your life (rather than being stuck in thinking about what you don’t want, like anxiety), and planning intentional action to achieve your goals and live according to your values are all very effective ways to live well, first in spite of anxiety and then without it. The therapy that teaches how to do this is called acceptance and commitment therapy. This article is a great introduction: http://bit.ly/2bnpW6v . Books are available on the topic, too.

      Given that you’ve been thinking about death, it’s very important to seek help. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an excellent starting point. They are available around the clock, and their number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Their website is http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org, where they have information and a chat option if you don’t like the phone. Please give them a call or visit their website. They exist for a reason!

      (Also, the symptoms of anxiety can definitely mimic heart attacks and strokes, and it’s not uncommon for people to fear that one of these is happening.)

    2. Faheem. Keep going. Millions like us suffer from depression and anxiety. Just World and local news is enough to question mankind. I have found keeping good friends and exercise are helpful. So is expelling those negative thoughts as fast as possible.

  6. Hi. Great article. I have been living with “over thinking” for a long time. My understanding more recently is that a more clinical name for over thinking is rumination. Is that correct?

    1. Hi Keith,
      Over-thinking and rumination are very close cousins. Rumination involves over-thinking. Over-thinking isn’t always the same as ruminating. With over-thinking, the mind takes off, often analyzing ad nauseam. Even something simple as buying a card or an item in a grocery store can involve over-thinking. I’ve been known to analyze nutrition labels and ingredients lists in an attempt to decide if the item in question is something I should buy; then, I’ll analyze the fact that I’m analyzing the label. It’s annoying. Rumination does involve this type of over-thinking, but it’s tied to mulling over the same thing repeatedly. Worrying over a perceived mistake day and night for a period of time, for example, is both over-thinking and rumination. An animal that has multiple stomachs and regurgitates food in order to re-digest it, such as a cow, is called a ruminant because they chew over the same thing more than once. That’s a good way to distinguish rumination from other types of thinking. I must emphasize that I’m not calling people cows! We are higher-order species that have the privilege of ruminating over thoughts rather than food. Lucky us. Hopefully this helps. I’m glad you mentioned this.

  7. My brain will not stop processing. It is not anxiety, fearful of something, or overthinking a subject. It just starts processing and jumping from item to item. For instance, if I am laying in bed and hear a siren, then it starts trying to process is it an ambulance, police car or a fire truck. Fire truck? Which kind? How is the ladder connected to the truck and how do the hydraulics work to move it around? How wide is the ladder? How many rungs are there? This goes on and on through out the day with various experiences or things I see or hear throughout the day. Makes going to sleep very difficult. Feels like my brain is redlining at full speed. Any suggestions/directions would be really appreciated!

    1. Hello Lyle,

      I can relate to everything you describe. I haven’t been successful in stopping my brain from doing this, but I have discovered things that stop it from being so bothersome. Have you tried returning your senses and your thoughts to the present moment when you notice your brain redlining at full speed? Reconnecting to what is going on around you, day or night, can be very helpful. At first, it doesn’t work for long (and sometimes not much at all), but with practice you can train your brain to focus more on the sights, smells, sounds, and actions around you than it does on overprocessing every little thought or sense. In time, you’ll be present in the moment for longer periods of time. Your brain might race off in the background, but you’ll be separated from its behavior, grounded in the present, and won’t get dragged along with it.

  8. Hi Tanya

    Your video is awesome thanks for that, im suffering of overthinking and anxiety most of my life but it has become worse since a person i really trusted got fired at work, now my mind runs wild everyday thinking im doing something wrong to even though i have nothing to worry about i create problems and situations in my head?? Is this normal ? As ive seen on previous comments facial expressions thats the worst for me someone will just look at me wrong and i will freak?

    1. Hi Cindy,
      I’m glad you liked the video. Thank you for your feedback! The experiences you describe are a very normal part of anxiety. For years people told me, “Tanya, quit creating problems for yourself.” I made so many problems for myself in my head, reading into expressions, tone of voice, little nuances of behavior, what people said or didn’t say, and more. I finally realized that this really wasn’t getting me to where I wanted to be in life. Lessening the habit (I can’t honestly say completely breaking the habit, because I still catch myself reverting to overthinking everything) was a process that took time, but it was well worth it. I began catching myself overthinking or over-analyzing, and then I’d start to consider that my thoughts were wrong. We can’t know with certainty what someone else is thinking, so we can’t know with certainty that we’re being judged. Considering that they might be thinking about something that had nothing to do with me was helpful in distancing myself from the problems I created in my own head.

  9. Hello, I have to say that your video dud keep my mind off of things while I was watching it, so thank you for that! I have very bad anxiety and overthinking especially when it comes to daiting and relationships! Like it gets to the point to where if I’m not talking to them or not able to get to see the other person for long amounts of time I am completely freaking out.. I hate it so much! And a lot of times times when I am talking to them or around them I still overthink everything I say cause I’m afraid that I’m going to say or do something wrong and scare them away 🙁 , and that’s something definitely important early in a relationship like I am, that’s the prime time to be your best and make sure things stay great and how you want them!! It’s been a long battle that I’ve been fighting and I’m so tired of fighting it. I just want to be normal and relax and go to the flow but that never happens with me! 🙁

    1. Hi Bethany,
      Anxiety has a way of interfering in life and enjoyment, doesn’t it? I’ve been there, and I can relate. Constantly worrying about saying or doing the wrong thing, overthinking everything, and more are exhausting. As far as being “normal,” there really is no standard. It’s a made-up concept that comes from the fact that everyone wants to fit in and be accepted. You can start to remove that thought from your mind! But it will keep coming back, so be patient with yourself. I have found that two excellent approaches to anxiety/all mental health issues are acceptance and commitment therapy and solution-focused therapy. You might want to consider looking into these to see if you like their approaches. Know that anxiety doesn’t have to bother you forever. 🙂

  10. I have recently met someone who has quickly become very important in my life and I have taken in love with her. Now whilst all that might sound nice in itself and of course it is I am finding that at the end of each day I am replaying events over and over analysing every detail of our time together. I hate doing this and am trying to nip it in the bud before I get fully into it. It drives me mad and spoils what has been a lovely time. I’m scared that if I don’t keep it under control I might loose her. What can I do. Please help. Thanks

    1. Hey man. Honestly, I was in the exact same position. For me, my mind thinks about anything that I could use to think that she doesn’t either like me, or her feelings are fading, or anything like that. The best thing I did to counter this was to keep a journal of all of the nice things that she did for me. Any time that a thought came to my head thinking that she did something against me, or ignored me, or anything like that, I just would counter that and think of all of the positive things she has done. I mean why would this person want to spend so much time with me. Why would she have done X or Y or Z if she didn’t really like to spend time with me. The journal allows you to permanently mark things down. If you write things down, however small, your mind will start to focus more on the things that are positive. Every time that a negative thought comes, say to yourself that ” I am experiencing anxiety because she did X, but I know that’s not what she meant. She likes me because of Y, and that makes me happy”. Hope that helps a bit.

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